Kootenay Ice goalie Payton Lee goes for a skate during a 2016-17 home game.

Kootenay Ice goalie Payton Lee goes for a skate during a 2016-17 home game.

Kootenay Ice look to rebound from miserable weekend

Losses ‘snowball’ for Kootenay in three-game weekend in Saskatchewan, team emphasizing defensive cohesiveness moving forward.

Scoring two goals in three games is likely to yield negative results. Letting in 23 in that same span, guarantees them.

As unbelievable as it may seem, that’s the situation the Kootenay Ice faced in Saskatchewan between Friday and Sunday, as they lost 4-0 to the Saskatoon Blades, 8-0 to the Prince Albert Raiders, and 11-2 to the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“I think [we] just got frustrated, everyone was on their own page and everything snowballed on us,” said head coach Luke Pierce on their most recent three games. “It was obviously really disappointing results and [terrible] morale-wise.”

The breakdown came as a surprise to the coach, who was very pleased with his team’s 5-2 performance against the Edmonton Oil Kings on Wednesday to start the trip.

“I thought that against Saskatoon we were a little slow to get going,” Pierce said. “Maybe we assumed that things were going to get easier for us [after the win in Edmonton] but Saskatoon’s playing really hard right now.

“[The Blades] are fighting for their lives [to get into] the playoffs and I don’t think our guys were quite ready for that.”

Saskatoon popped in the game’s first goal on Friday night just 54 seconds in. It was the fifth time this season that the Ice have let in a goal in the first minute of play, and the 20th time they’ve given one up in the first five minutes.

From there, Saskatoon outcompeted Kootenay, building up a 4-0 lead by the start of the second period and holding onto it until the final buzzer.

Blades’ goalie Logan Flodell earned his third shutout of the season, stopping 20 shots. Jakob Walter meanwhile made 24 saves on 28 shots and lost for the 18th time this season.

In Prince Albert the next night, with Payton Lee starting in goal, things got even worse for Kootenay.

While they didn’t let in a goal until the tenth minute, by the end of the game they were outshot 54-25 and were defeated 8-0.

“[The Saskatoon game] kind of set us back a bit [but] I thought that we had a better start in Prince Albert,” Pierce said. “It was another physical game and we did some things well early on but we were beat up a little bit heading into Moose Jaw.”

The beatings weren’t contained to the scoreboard either.

In the first period, defenceman Ryan Pouliot took a high hit from Kolby Johnson and spent some time in the locker room before returning later in the game.

That incident raised the temperature in the game, which ended up having three fights amongst a number of other penalties.

Then, in the last 10 minutes of the third period, a collision with Parker Kelly took Lee out of the game and sent in Walter cold to face a penalty shot.

Kelly beat Walter with a low wrister for the first regular season penalty shot the team has allowed in 16 years.

Although Lee confirmed with the team’s coaching staff after warm-up in Moose Jaw on Sunday that he was healthy enough to play, the Ice started Walter between the pipes.

Playing their third game in three days against the second best team in the East Division, the odds were not stacked in Kootenay’s favour.

“[Moose Jaw] is a good hockey team and nothing seemed to go right for us,” Pierce said. “We even ended up putting one in our own net … it was a bizarre set of circumstances.”

Unlike the previous two games, there weren’t any fights and only three penalties were called all game.

“I think your emotion-level is pretty drained by that point,” said Pierce on the lack of anger from his group. “It wasn’t that type of game, [but I thought early we competed well. It was 2-1 and the shots were pretty even [after the first period] but the game got away from us.”

The game quickly deteriorated for the Ice and by the early goings of the second period, it was 5-1 and Walter was pulled in favour of Lee.

The coach believed that the team was not playing defense the right way against the Warriors.

“We didn’t defend as a group,” he said. “Especially against teams like that, you don’t want to set up your defenceman to be in one-on-one or or two-on-two situations all night. We want to outnumber teams in the way we defend.”

“I thought we did a better job at times, but their skill-level alone made it challenging, especially when you’re physically tired, you’re mentally tired, you’re frustrated — it’s not a great recipe for success.”

Although Lee stepped in and was fantastic, making numerous highlight reel saves,with an 11-2 final, Pierce was not happy and knows that the team will have to be significantly sharper on Tuesday when they face the Medicine Hat Tigers to conclude their road trip.

In six prior meetings against the top Central Division team, the Ice have lost all six times including 10-3 and 8-1 defeats.

“Working as a group defensively will be our main priority,” Pierce said. “We’re going to need a lot of things to go right. We’re going to need a great goaltending performance [and] we’re going to need our special teams to be good.

“Our power play has to capitalize when we have chances and we can’t give up a lot [on our end]. Every night there’s a chance [on the special teams] and we need to make sure that we emphasize a much better defensive approach to the game [too].”

After the weekend, the Ice remain in last place in the WHL and are now five points behind Prince Albert, with only one game in hand, for that distinction.

There are now only seven games remaining for the Ice this season with only three taking place at home. After the game against the Tigers in Medicine Hat, the Ice will play a home-and-home series with the Red Deer Rebels beginning at Western Financial Place on Friday at 7 p.m.